When To Call A Doctor
If you haven’t been diagnosed with genital herpes, call your doctor if you have:
- Painful blisters or sores in the genital or pelvic area.
- Burning or pain while urinating, or you can’t urinate.
- Reason to think you’ve been exposed to genital herpes.
If you have been diagnosed with genital herpes, call your doctor if you are having frequent outbreaks or if you can’t pass urine or are constipated.
If you are pregnant and have genital herpes, or if you think you have genital herpes, tell your doctor.
How Does Genital Herpes Affect Pregnancy
- If you get genital herpes during pregnancy, you can spread genital herpes to your baby during delivery.
- If you had genital herpes before pregnancy, your baby is still at risk of getting herpes, but the risk is lower.
Most women with genital herpes have healthy babies. But babies who get herpes from their mother have neonatal herpes. Neonatal herpes is a serious condition that can cause problems in a newborn baby such as brain damage, eye problems, or even death.
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Are There Any Risks To The Test
There is no known risk to having a swab test.
There is very little risk to having a blood test. You may have slight pain or bruising at the spot where the needle was put in, but most symptoms go away quickly.
If you had a lumbar puncture, you may have pain or tenderness in your back where the needle was inserted. You may also get a headache after the procedure.
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Whats The Big Deal Can Genital Herpes Kill You
Genital herpes is rarely life threatening. But having herpes sores makes it easier for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, to enter the body. Not only is there an increased risk for getting HIV if you have genital herpes, but having the two diseases together may also make each one worse.
A pregnant woman can pass genital herpes on to their baby, so its particularly serious during pregnancy. If you get infected near the end of pregnancy, the risk is highest. At least 30% and as many as 50% of newly infected pregnant women give the virus to their babies. For moms who were infected long before delivery, the risk is much lower. Less than 1% of babies born to mothers with an older genital herpes infection get the virus. And if a woman has an outbreak at delivery, a cesarean section is usually done.
Genital herpes is a lifelong condition for which there is no cure. Having it can force you to make inconvenient changes in life, particularly in your sex life, and it can cause you a lot of pain and discomfort. You simply would rather not have it.
Im Pregnant How Could Genital Herpes Affect My Baby
If you are pregnant and have genital herpes, it is very important for you to go to prenatal care visits. Tell your doctor if you have ever had symptoms of, or have been diagnosed with, genital herpes. Also tell your doctor if you have ever been exposed to genital herpes. There is some research that suggests that genital herpes infection may lead to miscarriage, or could make it more likely for you to deliver your baby too early.
Herpes infection can be passed from you to your unborn child before birth but is more commonly passed to your infant during delivery. This can lead to a potentially deadly infection in your baby . It is important that you avoid getting herpes during pregnancy. If you are pregnant and have genital herpes, you may be offered anti-herpes medicine towards the end of your pregnancy. This medicine may reduce your risk of having signs or symptoms of genital herpes at the time of delivery. At the time of delivery, your doctor should carefully examine you for herpes sores. If you have herpes symptoms at delivery, a C-section is usually performed.
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What Questions Should I Ask My Doctor
You may want to ask your healthcare provider:
- What is the best treatment for me?
- What are the side effects of antiviral medications?
- How can I reduce the risk of future outbreaks?
- Whats the best way to prevent getting another STI?
- How can I protect my partner from getting genital herpes?
- Should I look out for signs of complications?
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Millions of people are living with the herpes virus that causes genital herpes. Its a common STI. You shouldnt be embarrassed or put off seeking medical care if you develop symptoms. Treatments can ease symptoms, reduce outbreaks and protect sexual partners from infection. Having the virus shouldnt affect your relationships or sexual health. However, you do need to tell your sexual partners that you have the virus. Your healthcare provider can discuss ways to prevent spreading this STI.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/23/2020.
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Herpes Symptoms And Signs
In order to diagnose herpes, a health care provider can swab an area of visibly active herpes infection or, if symptoms arent active, a blood test can be given that measures the number of herpes antibodies present in the body. The antibodies dont indicate herpes itself, but rather show the immune systems response to the presence of the virus in the body. Its important to note that sometimes a swab can give false negative results since herpes lesions need to be large enough to yield enough detectable virus and if the outbreak is already healing it also may not be detected in a swab.
The most common herpes symptoms include:
- Developing either a single cold sore or cluster of multiple cold sores that form on the lips, inside the mouth, or on the genitals, buttocks and upper thighs.
- Sores can sometimes be severe, painful and rupture and cause fluid to be secreted out.
- Some herpes canker sores develop a thin, white coating and burn when touched while they healing.
- Around herpes cold sores, its common to feel pain, tenderness and other symptoms of a rash, such as redness or signs of swelling.
- Some people are able to tell before an outbreak if one is going to occur because they feel tingling, itchy sensations near the affected area.
- Some people develop other symptoms during herpes outbreaks that are similar to those caused by a cold or the flu. This may include fatigue, irritability, aches or a slight fever.
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Genital Herpes Cdc Fact Sheet
Genital herpes is a common sexually transmitted disease that any sexually active person can get. Most people with the virus dont have symptoms. Even without signs of the disease, herpes can still be spread to sex partners.
Basic Fact Sheet | Detailed Version
Basic fact sheets are presented in plain language for individuals with general questions about sexually transmitted diseases. The content here can be syndicated .
Best For New Symptoms: Plushcare
Why We Chose It: If you think you may have herpes symptoms for the first time, blood tests are not accurate. Its best to see a doctorand PlushCare offers that from home because PlushCare is a telemedicine provider.
Accepts insurance from several major companies
A doctor may be able to diagnose you with herpes without testing, which is faster and less expensive than other options
Meeting with a doctor allows you to ask questions and get educated about your sexual health concerns
PlushCare is a telemedicine provider. It may be a good option for people who also need other online or at-home healthcare
A doctor visit is required to access testing
Youre not actually buying a herpes test. If your doctor doesnt think you need one, you may not be offered one
When you use PlushCare for STD testing, youre not purchasing an at-home herpes test. Instead, you are making a virtual appointment with a doctor to discuss your concerns about herpes and other STDs. Then, if the doctor thinks a test is warranted, he or she will write an order for a test and send you to fill it. Results are usually communicated to the doctor within 3-5 days, and then the doctor will follow up with you by telehealth and provide treatment or further testing as appropriate.
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Herpes Is Rarely Serious
Herpes is an extremely common and widely feared infection, but in most cases its not very serious. Most genital herpes infections are asymptomatic and the fear of herpes is more psychological than it is physical, H. Hunter Handsfield, MD, a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle and a nationally recognized STD expert, tells Health. Its basically just a skin disease.
Recommended Specimens And Tests In Symptomatic People
Testing by NAAT is appropriate when:
Cultures from lesions caused by HSV can yield positive results within 24 hours.
Sensitivity varies depending on the lesion being sampled Footnote 21. Sensitivity of culture declines when lesions start to heal and is low for recurrent lesionsFootnote 21. Due to its superior sensitivity, consider NAAT when a false negative culture result is suspectedFootnote 1Footnote 23. If NAAT is not available, viral culture can be repeated on fresh lesions.
Consult the local laboratory for the availability of HSV TSS.
A study of TSS showed a sensitivity of 80.5% and specificity of 98.5% for HSV-2, and a sensitivity of 91% and specificity of 96.4% for HSV-1Footnote 28.
TSS testing can demonstrate whether partners are serodifferent or serodiscordant or concordant .
TSS may be useful in the following situations:
TSS should not be used for screening asymptomatic people because:
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What Is Neonatal Herpes
Neonatal herpes can be a very serious infection. Babies generally contract the virus from their birthing parent during childbirth even if the parent doesnt have active lesions. They may also get HSV-1 if an adult with an active cold sore kisses them. Breastfeeding babies can also get HSV-1 from the breast if there are lesions present. But babies cant get herpes from breast milk, so its safe to pump and feed.
Herpes simplex can be more dangerous for young babies because they dont have a fully developed immune system. But most babies with neonatal herpes can recover fully with treatment.
The dangers of neonatal herpes are much higher if the infection spreads to the babys organs. If youre pregnant and have herpes, speak with your healthcare provider about how to lower the risk of passing the infection to your baby.
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Treatment Of Genital Herpes
Genital herpes will clear by itself however, seeking treatment early can significantly reduce the time the outbreak lasts and can help the healing process. It also reduces the risk of you passing it on to someone else.
You will be given antivirals which work by preventing the virus from multiplying but it does not clear the virus from your body completely.
Treatment is usually started within five days of the start of the first outbreak. Treatment involves taking antiviral tablets daily for five days. There are various types of antivirals that may be prescribed, common ones include aciclovir, famciclovir and valaciclovir.
Antibiotics will not work because genital herpes is a virus not a bacteria. The treatment you buy for oral cold sores will not work either.
Some people find that another course of antivirals helps with further outbreaks. For people who have multiple outbreaks , they may be given longer courses of medication. This is known as suppressive treatment. This means taking antiviral medication for a longer time period.
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What Is The Treatment
Antiviral medication can be prescribed when herpes first develops, or if the blisters are painful or happen often. The antiviral treatments will not cure herpes, but can help to reduce discomfort and how long it takes for a sore to heal.The medication works best if it is started as soon as possible. It can also decrease the chance of spreading it to others by preventing the virus from multiplying.
To ease discomfort when you have symptoms, try the following:
- Take acetaminophen or Ibuprofen to help with the pain
- Wear loose-fitting clothing and cotton underwear
- Soak in warm water baths
- Keep the infected area dry, e.g., use a blow dryer on a cool setting after bathing instead of rubbing the area with a towel
- Apply an ice-pack, wrapped in a clean cloth, to sores
- Drink plenty of fluids to keep urine diluted . If urinating hurts, pour warm water over your genitals while urinating or pee when you are in a warm shower or bath
- Do not use medicated or non-medicated ointments or creams, unless they are prescribed by your health care provider
- Avoid breaking blisters and any sexual contact until symptoms have resolved
Is Genital Herpes Infection Related To Hiv
Herpes and HIV are caused by different viruses. But patients infected with these viruses are more likely to transmit either disease to their sexual partners. Patients with herpes are more vulnerable to HIV infection. People newly diagnosed with herpes should be tested for HIV infection and other sexually transmitted infections.
Patients who are infected with both herpes and HIV also may have a higher concentration of HIV viruses in their body because of the interaction between the herpes virus and the HIV virus. When HIV damages a persons immune system, the person may be more likely to shed herpes simplex virus asymptomatically.
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Things You Can Do To Help
Antivirals are only designed to stop the virus multiplying and will not help your discomfort in the short term. For this, there are a few simple things you can do to ease the discomfort and speed up the healing process:
- Apply an ice pack or ice cubes in a plastic bag
- Take a cool shower to soothe the blisters
- Apply a local, over-the-counter anaesthetic cream such as lidocaine
- Gently bathe the area with warm salt water
- Carefully pat the area dry
- If weeing is painful, go to the toilet in a warm bath or shower
- Wash your hands before and after touching the infected area to avoid introducing bacteria
- Keep hydrated and drink extra fluids
- Wear loose, cotton clothing
- Use an over-the-counter painkiller to help with pain and discomfort
Avoid washing your genitals too often when you have an outbreak, as this wont help to alleviate the symptoms.
The antivirals are safe to use with hormonal contraception but talk to the person prescribing the treatment to make sure.
Genital herpes can be safely treated during pregnancy. It is important to discuss with your midwife if you have, or have had, herpes infections. The treatment you receive may depend on whether it is your first herpes infection and also where in the pregnancy you are but your midwife will advise you.
It is strongly advised that you do not have any sexual contact before or during an outbreak and for a week after your symptoms have completely gone.
Talking to people about STIs
STIs and Stigma
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What Abnormal Results Mean
A positive test means you have been infected with HSV recently or at some point in the past.
Tests can be done to help determine if you have a recent infection.
About 70% of adults have been infected by HSV-1 and have antibodies against the virus. About 20% to 50% of adults will have antibodies against the HSV-2 virus, which causes genital herpes.
HSV stays in your system once you have been infected. It may be “asleep” , and cause no symptoms, or it may flare up and cause symptoms. This test cannot tell whether you are having a flare-up.
Whats The Difference Between Hsv
There are two types of HSV. HSV-1 is transmitted through oral contact. You can catch HSV-1 through mouth-to-mouth contact or through oral contact with the genitals. The sores associated with HSV-1 are often referred to as cold sores. Though they typically appear around the mouth, HSV-1 can also cause genital herpes.
HSV-2 is a sexually transmitted infection that primarily impacts the genitals. HSV-2 is spread through contact with the genitals, skin, fluids, or sores of someone with the virus. If HSV-2 comes into contact with the oral membranes, it may also cause sores on the mouth. Both types of herpes may spread even when symptoms are not evident and are lifelong viruses with no cure.
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Where Does The Herpes Virus Live In The Body
The herpes simplex viruses are latent, meaning they can live in the body without causing symptoms. After the initial infection, the virus gets into the nerve roots and spreads to the sensory nerve ganglia, the junctions where nerves from different parts of the body come together. For the genital area, the ganglia are adjacent to the spinal cord in the lower back. For orofacial herpes , the ganglia are located behind the cheek bone.
Genital herpes can be treated, but it cannot be cured.Anti-viral medicines can make outbreaks:
Living with genital herpes causes some people to:
- Feel embarrassed or ashamed
- Worry about infecting a sexual partner
- Worry that having herpes will affect relationships with sexual partners
- Avoid dating or sexual relationships
Most people with herpes are able to live with the virusand manage their outbreaks. Talking to trusted healthcare providers and friends can help. Your health careprovider can talk to you about medicines that treatoutbreaks and about ways to reduce the chance ofpassing the virus on to a sexual partner.
Medicines can help lower the chance that you will pass the virus to others.